Eazi Grip

Tom Neave in the points at Donington Park and Andrew Irwin returns to racing from injury for Honda Racing UK

Tom Neave scores points in rain-soaked Donington Park as Franco Bourne paves the way to sixth

In a chaotic and shortened Bennetts BikeSocial Sprint race, Tom Neave bagged himself an eleventh-place finish in the wet conditions, whilst Franco Bourne scored a season-best sixth on his Pathway specification Marvel HCL Motorsport Fireblade, making up a remarkable seventeen places on the way.

The two Honda Racing UK riders, Andrew Irwin & Tom Neave, lined up towards the rear of the grid for the weekend’s opening race after qualifying in nineteenth and twentieth positions earlier in the day. As they rolled out of pitlane on their sighting laps, the dark clouds overhead began to empty and tension on the grid rose swiftly. Although the rain was intensifying, the decision to race on either wet tyres or intermediates was being questioned by crew chiefs and riders up and down the field. Andrew would choose intermediates and Tom – full wets.

As the lights went out and the field roared away from the line, both riders were cautious on their opening laps as they searched for grip. Meanwhile, class rookie Franco Bourne was carving through the field from his twenty-third grid slot to sit in eleventh position by the end of lap two. Three laps later, Andrew would sadly crash out of the race unhurt at Craner Curves.

Back on the Pathway Fireblade, Franco at this point had broken into the top ten and was running in seventh position right in the wheel tracks of Peter Hickman in front. Just one lap later he had made a move stick and was into the top six. Tom Neave at this point was also making progress as his confidence in the slippery conditions rose. Come the chequered flag, Tom would cross the finish line in eleventh and Franco would hold onto his sixth place finish – becoming one of the youngest riders to secure a top ten at just nineteen years of age.

In the Pirelli National Superstock Championship, series leader Dan Linfoot rocketed his Optimum Bikes Racing Fireblade to pole position for the first race of the weekend. Then with dark clouds forming overhead and rain intensifying this race was red-flagged and reduced in length to an eight-lap dash. At the restart, Joe Talbot grabbed the early lead, which he would then hold all the way to the finish to secure his debut win. In doing so he became the seventh different winner in the class this year aboard his JR Performance Racing Fireblade.

#68 Tom Neave

“This has been a real confidence-building race for me, after starting in twentieth position and making up nine places to finish in eleventh, in super tricky positions too. It was a bit chaotic on the grid and making the decision to race with inters or full wets was tricky but I think we made the right call. I look forward to going again tomorrow in the two longer races, as I always feel stronger with my late-race pace, and come rain or shine we will have a good go at it.”

#18 Andrew Irwin

“First race back and the weather is in between and super challenging. I think 60% of the grid went wets and the other 40% went inters. I chose to go with intermediates because I felt the track was at that turning point but it was really hard to tell where the track was dry and where it wasn’t. I just got caught out at Craner as I was trying to make a bit of a step, but that’s the way it goes. We have two more races, there is no stress, no pressure and we go into tomorrow wanting to make steps forward and enjoy it.”

From the back of the grid to the points in Race Three for Tom Neave

In the opening Bennetts British Superbike race of the day, the twenty-lap feature race, Honda Racing UK riders Tom Neave and Andrew Irwin lined up in fourteenth and twenty-fourth places respectively. Although the conditions were dry and rain was not falling, questions were being asked as to when the inevitable rain would come. Shod in slick tyres both riders were well aware that they would need to make rapid progress in order to score solid points should the race become red-flagged.

The opening laps were a scrappy affair as Tom jostled for position with those around him in the mid-pack and would end the opening lap down two places in sixteenth, Andrew Irwin meanwhile had made up places to sit in twenty-second. As has been the case for much of the year & with the laps ticking by, Tom soon began to use his improved race pace and consistency to move back up the finishing order and into the point-scoring positions.

By lap eight, spots of rain were falling in all sectors and the pace had slowed. Just five laps later, and having experienced several moments in the slippery and treacherous conditions Andrew Irwin would pull into pit lane and retire from the race. At this stage of his return from injury, getting laps under his belt was the priority and the risk of crashing out was too great.

When the red flag was then flown signalling the early end to the race, Tom Neave was sitting in thirteenth position and added more valuable championship points to his 2023 campaign tally.

Race three provided yet more drama, as the team rushed to fix an electrical fault with Tom Neave’s bike as he left for the grid. Missing the pit lane exit meant that he started from the back of the grid. Undeterred however, Tom would go on to put together another strong race as he battled through the field to a point scoring finish in fifteenth. Andrew Irwin, once more retired from the race.

In the day’s sole Pirelli National Superstock race, Joe Talbot doubled up for the weekend with a sublime wet weather masterclass to win once again on his JR Performance Racing Fireblade.

The Honda Racing UK team has just one final round remaining of the Bennetts British Superbike Championship which takes place at Brands Hatch on 13th – 15th October.

#68 Tom Neave

“In the first race, there were spots of rain falling almost from the off to tell the truth, which made it difficult to get going. As the race progressed though, the feeling really started to come to me, then on lap eight the rain was pretty much falling everywhere on the circuit and I thought they were going to flag it. Then when they did It was good to get the finish and get some more points on the board. 

To then end the weekend with another point after having to start from the back of the grid is a good result all things considered. Three races this weekend and three finishes in difficult conditions is exactly what I needed. The spray is so difficult to manage from the back of the grid in those early laps so you have to choose when you go carefully. I head to Brands now for the final round with good confidence to get into those positions that I know I am capable of.”

#18 Andrew Irwin

“This is obviously not the weekend of results I wanted on my return, but at this stage, the priority for me is to get laps under my belt after a long time off the bike. These conditions are obviously challenging and with the difficulties of this season I have much more to lose than I have to gain. We look forward to Brands now for the final round and continuing to build back to where I know I can be.”

Posted on Monday, October 2nd, 2023 in News

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